Friday, 7 April 2017

Fight Ready - 2

This article was written with the help of Wayne Goldsmith who I have been working with for the past few months. Wayne is a sports coaching expert who has worked extensively with sports teams and organisations all over the world including Swimming Australia, the US Olympic Committee and numerous Football and Rugby clubs.

Why you need to Train Year Round and Keep Getting Better

I believe staying fight ready year round while constantly improving and upgrading skills is the key to success for any aspiring fighter. The fighter must focus on improving and adding new skills between bouts simply because as he progresses through his career he will come up against better and better opponents.

A successful fighter with a winning record will inevitably face opponents who have a much higher level of striking. grappling and experience than his previous opponents. The level of technique and fitness which was enough to beat the local level fighters he previously faced will usually not be enough to beat an international level opponent.

Stages of Fight Readiness

The first step in staying ‘Fight Ready’ is understanding the various stages of Preparation and Fight readiness. Wayne Goldsmith breaks the various stages down as follows:

·        BASELINE - (LEARNING AND EARNING PHASE)  In the "BASELINE" phase of training, athletes are focused on general fitness, flexibility, power, balance, co-ordination and the fundamental movements and skills of the sport. This phase of training includes exposure to a broad range of tactics, skills and techniques. Training sessions during the "baseline" phase may be relatively long in duration as athletes focus on learning new skills, building strength and endurance and laying down the foundations - the platform for long term success.

·         COMPETITIVE - (MASTERY AND SPECIFICITY PHASE) In the competitive phase athletes become focused on narrowing their skills and honing their "weapons" with an aim to developing a specific set of skills that are conducive of them fighting to the best of their ability. For example, in this phase of training, athletes may spend more time on kicking and grappling if these are considered to be the "weapons" that will help them win their upcoming fight. In this phase, the mental aspects of fighting become more important and athletes should be working with their coaches and training partners to identify areas of mental skill, mental toughness, concentration and focus that they can work on during physical training sessions.

·         WINNING - (PEAK PERFORMANCE PHASE) in the winning phase the emphasis becomes speed, power and explosiveness and on being able to execute excellence in technique and skill at fight intensity. Training may be a little shorter than in the Baseline and Competitive Phases but the speed and intensity of activity will be much higher as the athletes prepares specifically to win. There is a clear focus on mental skills in this phase of training. MMA athletes and their coaches should create training situations which "expose" mental weaknesses and provide opportunities to build and strengthen mental skills under simulated fight conditions.

Post Fight Period

An important consideration here is the post-fight recovery period. Experience suggests that the longer the time the athlete takes away from "baseline" training following a fight the more challenging and difficult it is to get back to Competitive and Winning shape.
Where possible, MMA athletes are encouraged to do something the day immediately following their fight, e.g. walking, easy bike riding, swimming, slow-easy yoga type stretching so that the recovery process can be accelerated and the transition back into "baseline" fitness can be smooth and relatively short.  

Recovery Block

Wayne Goldsmith recommends what he calls a ‘Recovery block’ of slightly easier training working on a new skill or weak area immediately following a fight.  I think this is a great idea because it gets the athlete back in the habit of consistent training rather than getting lazy or falling into bad habits.
This post fight period is perfect for working on a new skill (perhaps improving your boxing offense if you are mainly a grappler). This is the time to do it because there is no pressure from an upcoming fight. Also, you may have learned valuable lessons from your last fight regardless of whether you won or lost. This is the time to learn from the mistakes while it is still fresh in your memory.

Stay in Competitive Shape so you can easily get back to Winning Shape

The aim of this system of fight readiness is to keep yourself in the ‘Competitive’ stage so that when a fight comes along you're only a few weeks off ‘Winning’ shape. As previously stated, up and coming fighters need to be ready to take fights and make the most of opportunities when they come along.  There is only a small window of opportunity in the sport of MMA and there are a lot of talented athletes all fighting for the top spots.

Continual Improvement Instead of 'Fight Camps'

Obviously this continual training protocol is the opposite to doing ‘Fight Camps’. I always discourage fighters from doing fight training camps. Training hard for six weeks before a fight may help you to perform better on fight night but will not lead to consistent improvement. To be a great fighter you need to train consistently week after week for many years.
Six weeks can be enough to develop general fitness and some strength and power but real fighting techniques are complicated motor skills requiring hours and hours of practice and repetition over many years, you need to be practicing them all the time to develop flawless technique and acquire the perfect timing so that you can use them under pressure against a resisting opponent.

Stages in Skill Development

As skills develop, your capacity to perform the skill progressively changes. At first, you learn how to do the skill slowly as your brain and body try to master the fundamental movements of the new skill. Then, you repeat the skill with precision and through the repetition your brain and body learn how to perform the skill to a high level of accuracy.
These first two stages of skills learning can take as little as a few sessions or a few weeks. However, it is important that you learn to execute the skill at high speed, under fatigue and under physical and emotional pressure, i.e. the conditions you will experience in a fight.
Simply practicing a skill and learning how to perform the movements of the skill is not enough for a MMA athlete! The critical issue is "can you perform the skill accurately at high speed, when you're fatigued and when you're under pressure?"
Obviously this is something which cannot be achieved in just a few weeks leading up to a fight and requires long term commitment.

It is worth remembering that usually you won’t see immediate results from your training. You will only feel the benefit from it in months to come. When a fighter performs impressively in a match it usually has less to do with their training in the last two months and more likely a result of their training over the previous five to ten years

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Fight Training Mistakes

Here are some of the things that I see aspiring fighters do which I think are very detrimental to their long term fight career success.

What is your Goal and What will it take to get there?

Not having a clear goal of what you want to achieve leads to unrealistic expectations of what it will take to get you there. If your goal is to win a local level amateur fight you will probably get away with training a few evenings a week however if you want to be an international level fighter you need to be in the gym for several hours every day, week after week, year after year even when you don’t feel like it or are running low on motivation.

What Stage are you at in your Fight Career?

Not having an accurate idea about what stage in your career or fighter development you are are at. This leads to not doing what you need to get to the next level. If you are already a UFC champion, you can probably get away with just honing you existing skills and doing training camps to make sure you ‘peak’ for your title defenses. Top level champions have already spent twenty plus years learning and perfecting the skills of Jiu-jitsu, wrestling and striking. If you are not yet at that level, you need to be working every day to build those skills.

How much Training are you really doing?

Not being honest with yourself about how much training you are actually doing. For example, some fighters are in the gym for three hours but they are actually training for 45 minutes’ total. They waste a lot of time chatting and training halfheartedly while chatting to their mates. Its OK to have fun and be sociable but its worth remembering that while you’re chatting and having fun your opponent might be already into his third hour of serious training and that will make a huge difference to the outcome of the fight.

Are you doing the Right kind of training or Just doing what you Enjoy?

Doing a lot of the wrong kind of training. Wasting too much time on the type of training you enjoy rather than on what you actually need to do to win fights. A big example I see of this is fighters doing fancy tricks in pad work routines which look good but which ultimately won’t help them to win fights. You need to identify the weaknesses in you game and spend your time working on fixing those holes. This is obviously not as much fun as doing the stuff you enjoy but its what you need to do to avoid losing fights.

Are your Training Partners helping you to become a better fighter?

Training with the wrong people. Training with seriously motivated people who want to train hard and work consistently to keep getting better is tough but its what you need to do to improve. If you waste time training with lazy, unfocused and unmotivated training partners it will rub off on you and you will eventually end up like them.

Are you Actually getting any better?

Staying in ‘maintenance level’ rather than focusing on continual daily improvement. Some fighters get to a certain level and the are not prepared to keeping putting in the same amount of work that will get them to the next level. You should try to improve your skills by 1% every day rather than being happy to stay where you are.

Are you actually sticking with the program or chopping and changing every few weeks?

Fighters can sometimes be easily influenced and will often adopt any new fad or training method to get short term results rather than thinking long term. Probably the biggest mistake I see with fighters is that they change their training routine and preparation in spite of overwhelming evidence that what they had been doing is working and getting them good results. Once you have a small amount of success in any field there will always be ‘experts’ who will appear to suddenly tell you what you should be doing better. If its not broke don’t fix it. Stick to what has been getting you the results.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Burmese Kickboxing

I recently traveled to Yangon, Myanmar to corner my student Jordan Lucas in his ONE FC MMA fight. I love training at local gyms whenever I travel to corner fighters so this was a great opportunity to train in the homeland of Lethwei, the Burmese style of kickboxing.

I was lucky enough to have some private Lethwei training sessions set up for me by Joey Kyaw from Transcend Fitness and Martial Arts Center where I also coached a few BJJ classes. Joey also helped with a lot of the research and information for this article.

The coaches I worked with in my training sessions were Saw Te Aung a former professional Lethwei fighter who has fought over 300 matches winning the sports most prestigious title, the Golden Belt, in 1996. I also trained with Professional Lethwei Coach Kyaw Soe who has worked as the head trainer for some of the top gyms and fighters in the sport.

I was very interested to see the contrast between Lethwei and other forms of Kickboxing. I have previously trained in Muay Thai in Thailand and had several Muay Thai bouts in Australia and the UK, I have also done some training in other styles of kickboxing including training trips in Holland to learn some of the Dutch style and some Savate (French Kickboxing).

My first impressions of Lethwei is that it is understandably, very similar to Muay Thai but with two big differences. Fighters don’t wear gloves and headbutts are allowed.

The history of Lethwei

Myanmar has experienced many wars throughout history including conflicts with Siam (Thailand), China, Britain as well as civil wars between the states within the country.  Lethwei like many other martial arts, was developed during these wartime periods before gradually evolving into a sport.

The earliest evidence of Lethwei can be traced back to drawings found in Rakhine State dated 600 AD. It is widely accepted that modern Lethwei originated from Bagan, the former capital of Myanmar, where drawings of the sport dating back to 1100 AD have been found in local temples.

Kyar Ba Nyein, who competed in Western Boxing at the 1952 Olympics, pioneered modern Lethwei by developing the current rules and promoting the sport throughout the country and internationally. He travelled around remote regions of the country where many villagers still actively practiced Lethwei and brought talented fighters back to Mandalay and Rangoon where he developed their skills using more modern training methods.

Traditionally, Lethwei bouts were contested in sandpits before boxing rings were introduced in the 1960's. This was probably influenced by British boxing as the country had been colonised by Britain in the previous century. Although the Burmese adopted the use of the ring, they did not take on the use of Boxing gloves .

Lethwei Rules

Up until ten years ago Lethwei bouts could last for fifteen rounds. Often there would be no time limits on the last round so the match would go on until one fighter could not continue.

In the modern rules, Lethwei fights range from three to five rounds. There is usually no scoring system and the match is declared a draw unless one fighter is knocked out.  If a knockout occurs, the boxer is revived and has the option of continuing the bout. Scoring systems are only used for tournament fights where it is necessary to have a clear winner.

With Myanmar being isolated from the rest of the world for so long, the Burmese say they were not pressured to evolve their sport as their neighbors in Thailand did. I asked the coaches if they thought there may be a need to change Lethwei to make it more acceptable to an international audience. They told me there been no pressure or lobbying for the use of gloves or banning head butts and if those rules were imposed then Lethwei will lose its charm and uniqueness and become too similar to Muay Thai.

There seems to be a wider variety of techniques used by the Myanmar fighters than those typically seen in Muay Thai. As there is no scoring system, there are no techniques which are judged to be better or score more highly than others. Scoring systems will inevitably lead fighters to focus more on the high scoring techniques, for example using more body kicks instead of low kicks or punches. Lethwei is exclusively focused on knocking your opponent out regardless of what technique you use.

I was interested to find out if Lethwei had been influenced by other martial arts and fighting styles. The trainers informed me that all the techniques we worked on (which are shown on the video clips) were taught to them by their trainers and they consider them all be Lethwei techniques. However they could not be sure if these techniques were derived from other martial arts. My trainers told me that Japanese Martial Arts are very popular in Myanmar so they would not be surprised if some techniques such as spinning kicks have been inspired by Karate.

The warm ups used in Lethwei training sessions were actually focused more on functional mobility exercises rather than the traditional medium paced run followed by half an hour of skipping commonly seen in gyms in Thailand. I found this to be much more effective and time efficient and appeared to be another example of Lethwei adopting modern training methods rather than sticking to traditional practices.

Another discovery I made was that the inclusion of headbutts can change the dynamics of the clinch position a lot. The standard techniques and strategies which work well in the traditional Thai Plumm position need to be adapted to take into account the extra danger of headbutts. The fact that the fighters are not wearing gloves also allows their hands more freedom to move and manipulate their opponent.

Influence of Mixed Martial Arts

The Myanmar coaches were not concerned that the increasing popularity of MMA will damage the native fighting sport. There has recently been a surge in the popularity of Lethwei with more people eager to learn this style and Lethwei shows becoming bigger than ever.

Based on the performances I've seen from the Myanmar fighters so far in their MMA fights I am sure they will become fan favourites in the sport due to their style and fighting spirit.

If you are interested in learning more about Lethwei and have the opportunity to visit Yangon I can highly recommend Transcend Martial Arts located at Level 5, Junction Mawtin. Corner of Anawratha Road and Lan Thit Road.,Yangon, Myanmar

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Staying 'Fight Ready' - Part 1

Why MMA fighters need to train year round in order to reach the highest levels in their fight career.

This article was written with the help of Wayne Goldsmith who I have been working with for the past few months. Wayne is a sports coaching expert who has worked extensively with sports teams and organisations all over the world including Swimming Australia, the US Olympic Committee and numerous Football and Rugby clubs.

Stay Fight Ready

I have always encouraged my fighters to train consistently all year round rather than doing ‘Fight Camps’. I believe in constantly improving your skills so that you are a much better fighter the next time you step into the cage than you were in your last fight. Fight camps usually involve training hard for six weeks before a match which inevitably leads to slacking off afterwards until another fight comes along. This is pretty common in the world of professional MMA which leads to low level fighters trying to do the same hoping to get the same results.
The alternative to this is to be in the gym every week constantly improving and adding new skills to your repertoire and also ensuring that you are staying fit and ready to fight at short notice if necessary.

Baseline Fitness Level

It is easier and more logical to maintain a ‘baseline level’ of fitness and skills throughout the year rather than to take long periods of time off, then having to rush the development of fitness and skills when a suitable fight opportunity arises.
Ideally, MMA athletes will aim to never be more than 3-4 weeks from their peak performance fighting shape. To achieve this, it is essential that the MMA athlete remain committed to maintaining a "baseline" of skills, technique and fitness training at all times of the year.
Over time, this "baseline" level can be progressively improved to higher and higher levels so that the athlete's peak performance systematically improves over the long term.

Obviously it is more difficult to maintain year round training rather than going hard for a few weeks then taking months off. It requires much more professionalism, determination and work ethic on the part of the fighter, however, I feel that the ability to do this will separate the top fighters from the rest.

Using 'Periodization' for MMA

Mixed Martial Arts is a relatively young sport which leads to uncertainty about the best ways to train and prepare for it. Often this leads to athletes and coaches imitating what they see athletes doing in other sports. One example of this is the practice of 'Periodization'.
Periodization is the systematic planning of Physical Training with the aim of reaching the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It usually involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period, usually divided into the off season, preseason, in season, and the postseason.

Although there are elements of Periodization which I feel can be beneficial, there are several reasons why I feel this does not work as perfectly for Mixed Martial Arts as it does for other sports such as Football or Athletics:

Lack of a 'Fight Season'

Mixed Martial Arts is less predictable schedule than other sports. There is no clear calendar of events such as national championships, world championships and Olympics. MMA doesn’t have a ‘Season’ such as in Football or Rugby. Fighters, especially those early in their careers, need to be ready to take fights all the time at short notice. This is due to need for exposure which will help build their profile and career, the need to gain experience against increasing levels of opponents and also to make the most of opportunities when they come along.

Missing out on Big Opportunities

I would advise any fighter who wishes to make it to the top level, to be ready to fight every two months for around the first 2-3 years of their career, while also making sure to constantly build on and improve their skills between these fights.

Need to Keep Learning and adding to your skills

Another big reason to not take time off between fights is because there is so much material to cover. Even if you are already a high level competitor in one fighting style it is essential  to keep improving and adding weapons to your game. Opponents will study your previous fights to capitalise on weaknesses. It is essential that you are spending time fixing up the holes in your game while adding new skills and weapons from one fight to the next.
Compared to other sports there are lots more skills to learn and practice. There aren’t enough hours in the day to master all the various skills and techniques of Take-downs, Boxing, Jiu jitsu, Kicking, Clinch Fighting, Leg-Locks and more but you can make an effort to gradually add some elements of a different skill-set to your arsenal which gradually turn you into a much more dangerous opponent.
The fighter needs to commit to being in the gym every day, year round to keep getting better all the time not just when they have a fight coming up.

In part two I’ll discuss the various levels and stages of fight readiness and preparation.

Team Nemesis

Check out this short documentary on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and Team Nemesis Head BJJ/MMA and Co owner Denis Kelly. A brief insight into who he is, what he is about, and what it’s like to be BJJ/MMA coach in Melbourne.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Mental Training

"How do I stop pre-fight nerves affecting my performance and ruining all the weeks of hard training and preparation before a fight?" This is a question that I often get asked by students before a fight or competition.

Everyone gets Pre-Fight Nerves

The first thing to remember is that everyone gets nervous before fights. The only people who don't get nervous are those who already know that they are going to lose. They have no need to be worried or put any pressure on themselves and already have all the excuses lined up for afterwards.
Even top level fighters are nervous and anxious before fights. There are numerous stories about top fighters such as Mike Tyson and Crocop being in tears and vomiting from panic and nervousness just minutes before stepping into the ring. Top level fighters have put in months and years of training and preparation and just have a short amount of time to make it all pay off. If top fighters appear not to be nervous it’s because they are acting in a confident manner knowing that appearing more confident will help them feel more confident.

Dealing with the Stress before it overpowers you

The first step to dealing with this stress is actually understanding what you are afraid of. You are not afraid of fighting. If you were afraid of fighting you would have many opportunities change your mind or find excuses to pull out in the weeks and days leading up to the fight.
The real reason fighters feel nervous before they compete is performance anxiety. You are afraid that you won't perform at your best and that all your training will be a waste of time. The problem is that this stress can make you feel weak, unfit, tired and nervous which can contribute to you not being able to perform at your best.

Get used to this Stress and Use it

The next thing to understand is that the nervousness won't just go away the more you compete. What actually happens is that you become better at dealing with it and using it to motivate you rather than negatively affecting your performance.
Getting used to the pressure doesn't happen overnight. You need to take small steps and set goals to gradually get better at dealing with the stress and performing at your best under pressure.

Steps to getting better at dealing with pre-fight nerves.

You need to spend as much time working on your mental skills as you do on your physical skills. It's good to find ways to combine both such as starting sparring from disadvantageous positions or pushing yourself to the point where you feel like quitting during fitness training to build your mental strength.

Mental Rehearsal - Don't put off thinking about the fight or match until it’s too late because then all the stress will hit you in one big rush. Visualise the fight in the weeks and days leading up to it so you will gradually get used to the pressure and stress in small doses. Visualise getting your hands wrapped, warming up, the ring announcer calling out your name. If possible watch videos of your opponent as so you know exactly what he looks like and how he moves, imagine yourself fighting him so that when you actually do fight it will seem that you're fighting someone who you've already fought or sparred with many times before.

Pre-Fight Routine - Have a few things that you do the day or night before every fight. For example watching the same inspirational movie, going for a walk on your own to think about the upcoming fight, listening to certain type of music. This will help build a feeling of consistency and familiarity to make you feel like you’ve been through all of this before. Don't do things to avoid thinking about the fight or take your mind off it. You need to stay focused on what you're going to do in a few hours time and make sure you are mentally ready.

Confident Mindset - Going into the match that you need a confident frame of mind. You need to be confident in your skills and ability and be positive and certain that if you perform at your best you will be able to win. The best way to develop this mindset is to think of previous times when fought really well or felt confident while you were in the ring. If you have never had an experience of feeling confident and positive in a fight then just think about a time when you felt confident in training.

Think of a time when everything went well and you were sure that you could rely on your techniques, where you felt fit and when your timing felt spot on.Try to remember how you felt during this time and the feelings and emotions that were going through your head. Then try to imagine you are back there doing the exact same thing. You need to practice this state of mind as much as possible so that you are sure that you can get back to it whenever you feel like it. The pre-fight routine mentioned above will also help you access your confident mindset more easily.

Attitudes to avoid

Just go in there and have fun’ - The reality is that you just have a short amount of time - 9 to 15 minutes to either win or lose the fight. That isn't enough time to 'have fun' and 'show what you can do'. What you need to be thinking about is going in and executing as perfect a performance as possible and not leaving anything to chance. What you need to be thinking is 'I've only got a short amount of time, I need to execute my game-plan perfectly and make my opponent quit.'
I just want to get it over with’ - This attitude shows that you aren't prepared to put in a big effort to win possibly due to the strain and exhaustion of all the training in the weeks leading up to the fight. What you need to be thinking is 'I've already put in all the weeks and months of preparation and I'm prepared to fight for as long as it takes to make my opponent quit even if that takes two hours'.
I deserve to win’ - All of the training that you did leading up to the fight or your performance in previous fights is no guarantee of how will perform in this fight. If you are not switched on enough and you opponent is then he may still be able to beat you even if he is less skilled.

Don't Run Away from it

Don’t try to avoid the stress - Just the same way that your muscles need stress from weights and resistance exercise to get stronger, the mental side of your fight training needs controlled amounts of stress to improve your ability to perform well in competition.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Training vs Competition

‘You sink to the level of your training, you don’t rise to the occasion’

A big factor which holds people back in their training is putting too much emphasis on what they can do in training and performance in the gym with their training partners. They mistakenly believe that how they perform in this comfortable setting with their friends and training partners is a good reflection of how they will do in competition.

Training Vs Fighting

Winning in training is easy. You turn up at the familiar environment of your own gym every night at the same time and train and spar with partners who’s games you’ve already figured out. You know which positions they are good from and which submissions or attacks they are likely to attempt. You are also certain that you won’t get injured or hurt during training.

Fighting is much different. You turn up at a venue which you’ve probably never been to before and take on opponents who its likely you don’t know much about. You don’t know their strengths or weaknesses and will usually have to quickly figure them out on the spot. Even if you had the opportunity to research and study your opponent before hand there is no guarantee that their game hasn’t changed significantly since then.

Don't leave your best fights in the Gym

Some people look really good and perform well in training but can’t put it together in competitions and fights. Others do not look great in training but perform well in fights. The reality is that the guys who don’t look good in training are usually just holding back, working on their weaknesses and developing their overall skills rather than just trying to win every round.

People who win matches and fights know how to train. They know that winning in training is not important and is meaningless. They use training to work on their weak areas and to keep improving.

Why do the others not improve? Due to going too hard they eventually run out of people to train with. The other students in the gym either get injured or eventually just avoid them or refuse to train with them. People who go hard in training are usually also the same ones who are first to complain and quit when training partners turn it up on them.

People who want to win in the gym often avoid training or start skipping rounds as soon as their training partners start matching their intensity. Due to their desire to always win in training they tend to stick exclusively to their good techniques and avoid having to work on their weak areas. This leads to their game stagnating over the years while other students keep developing and eventually overtake them.

Don't Try to Win in Training

The number one principle of Training Vs Competition is this: Training is just training. What you can do in training is a poor indication of what you can do in a real match. In training you are relaxed, there are no nerves, no fear, no risk of injury, no stress about embarrassing yourself, no fatigue from cutting weight the previous day,

To get the most out of each training session:

  • Figure out what you are good at

  • Figure out what you are not good at

  • Force yourself to work on your weak areas

  • Help your training partners to figure out ways to shut down your strengths. This will force you to develop & expand your arsenal & skills.

  • Realise that how you perform in training is not a good indication of how you would perform in a real fight. Pick your best ever day in training & you can expect your fight performance to be 50% or less of that.

The Key to Success in BJJ Training

The Key to Success in BJJ Training An old training partner of mine once jokingly told me that one of his pet peeves about JiuJitsu is that y...

Popular Posts